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October 23, 2003

By Amanda Beck


A pumpkin grows in Yorba Linda. And grows. And grows.

Truly worthy of the spirit of Halloween sprites and goblins, it's approaching 750 pounds and practically bursting from its tiny patch, only three vines wide.

"It's worse than having a pet. You can't leave it at the kennel when you go on vacation. It's time-consuming to raise a giant pumpkin,'' said 59 year-old Ethel Rausche, who has watched husband Raymond nurse this project since March.

Rausche, 69, said he was first inspired to tackle raising an Atlantic giant pumpkin, as his variety is known, when he read about another Orange County resident who had raised a 500-pounder of his own.

Afterward, he and his green thumb thought it sounded like a neat thing to do, so he ordered the patented $2 seeds from Nova Scotia and began siting 3-foot holes in the front yard.

"I just like to dig in the dirt sometimes, you know. Sometimes, I just get that spring fever,'' said Rausche, whose home also seems to double as a Yorba Linda orchard.

Tended trees bear everything from macadamia nuts and lemons to limes, peaches, plums, and persimmons.

Now that a 90-foot vine is snaking its way around his front yard, Rausche thinks he might like to enter his pumpkin in a contest, just to see if he can win.

He figures he's got a shot at the Peltzer Pines Pumpkinmania! contest, to be held in late October.

A crane will be donated, so the pumpkin can be transported to the site, and Pumpkinmania! judge Stuart Shim thinks that Rausche has the contest sewn up.

"That (weight) is still very, very respectable,'' said Shim, who has also only managed to raise runts of the 500-pound variety.


But something is wrong. Early in the month, the pumpkin behaves strangely. It swells, it squats down, it cracks.

Perhaps falling victim to humid weather and the hot sun, Rausche's pumpkin is rotting -- at least 10 days before the competition.

"It's a pile of orange out in my front yard. ... I don't think they want a heap of garbage at the contest,'' Ethel Rausche said, mourning their squash.

"It's all just memories now,'' added Raymond, still the loyal gardener who rescues seeds from inside the gourd.

These are for other gardeners, however, because Rausche does not think he'll try again next year. The watering schedule is too demanding, he said.

"We couldn't go (on vacation) because we couldn't trust anyone to water it every day as diligently as I did. It takes an hour,'' Rausche said.

But Shim added consolation. "It's gone to that big patch in the sky.''

Pumpkinmania! will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Peltzer's Farm, 8415 E. Chapman Ave. in Orange. For information on Rausche's seeds for the next growing season, contact the Star at (714) 704-3795.

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